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#1885: Crucial vote coming for Haiti_ (fwd)


Published Tuesday, January 18, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Crucial vote coming for Haiti______ BY DON BOHNING 

 WASHINGTON -- Of the watershed events since a U.S.-led invasion
restored constitutional government to Haiti in September 1994, none
 may be more critical for the future than long-delayed parliamentary
elections now scheduled for March and April, according to U.S.
 officials and Haiti analysts. The elections come at a time when the
original international sympathy and enthusiasm for assisting in Haiti's
recovery after three years of brutal military rule have been replaced by
 frustration with Haiti's intractable political problems -- principally,
a lack of effective leadership.  The March 19 and April 30 votes will be
for every elected office in Haiti -- more than 10,000 -- excluding the
president and eight senators. This includes all 83 members of the lower
chamber of parliament and 19 senators. It will be a prelude to
 presidential elections later in the year. A political standoff that
began with disputed elections in 1997 has led to a crippled government
that has lacked a sitting parliament for more than a year. As a result,
an estimated $500 million to $1 billion in foreign assistance has been
lost or delayed because there is no recognized government to receive it.
 ``The elections are the most important thing that's going to happen in
Haiti,'' said a U.S. congressional aide. If the elections are
successful, the aide continued, the next step would be to install a
parliament that can approve a constitutional government to replace the
de facto apparatus led by President Rene Preval, whose term expires in
February 2001.


 ``Right now we [the United States] don't have a partner in Haiti'' said
the congressional source. ``Haitian leaders have thrown away the best
opportunity Haiti has had.'' It's a sentiment shared by most of those in
Washington who deal with Haiti, whether they be Republicans or
Democrats, administration officials or representatives of international
financial institutions. ``Cynicism about Haitian politicians by
international institutions and governments is extremely high,'' says
Georges Fauriol, of the moderately conservative Center for Strategic


 ``There is fatigue and frustration that after a decade of involvement
in Haiti there is little to show for it,'' adds Fauriol. ``Any Haitian
appeal to the international community to remain involved is likely to be
met with extreme skepticism.'' The elections come at a time of major
transition of the international community's role in Haiti. The last
remaining American troops from the 20,000 who participated in the 1994
invasion will be gone by the end of January. In addition, the United
Nations and Organization of American States will create an unarmed and
non-uniformed group of 100 advisors focusing on human rights, the
 police and the judicial system. It will be in place by March 15.
 The goal is to have the vote concluded and the results certified in
time to seat a new parliament by the second Monday of June, a key date
under the existing Haitian Constitution. The tests of election
credibility will depend not only on whether the vote is free
 and fair but also on voter turnout. No one is willing to put a
percentage on voter turnout, but one congressional aide said 15 percent
``won't cut it'' in Washington. Another concern is voter apathy,
 with one recent survey indicating a large majority of Haitians doubt
there is anybody or anything that can change their situation.